Sri Lanka formerly called Ceylon in English and known in Tamil as ILANKAI or EELAM is an island situated at the southern extremity of the Indian subcontinent, separated from it at its narrowest point by only 22 miles of sea called Palk Strait. It lies between six and ten degrees north of the Equator, and on the longitude of 79 to 81 degrees east. Its area is 25,332 square miles comprising Sri Lanka 18,042 and Tamil Eelam 7,290 sq miles. The total population is 17,103,000, according to latest population statistics (1991), consisting of 12,656,000 Sinhalese, 3,113,000 Tamils, Muslims (mostly Tamil speaking) 1,214,000 and others 120,000.
THE EARLY TAMILS Image
The Tamils are an ancient people with a history dating back to atleast 2,500 years. The Tamil language, the lingua franco of the Tamils, is one of the five oldest living languages of the world. The Tamil classical literature, popularly called the Sangam (Academy) literature (1st -4th Century AD) is a collection of poems of lasting quality and artistic merit. They reflect faithfully the high level of civilization and literary attainments of the ancient Tamils.
THE EARLY SINHALESE
The Sinhala people trace their origins in the island to the arrival of Prince Vijaya from Bengal in India, about 2500 years ago. The Mahavamsa, a Sinhala chronicle written by a Buddhist Bhikku by the name of Mahanama, (6th Century AD) records that Prince Vijaya arrived on the island on the same day that the Buddha attained enlightenment.
WHO CAME FIRST
Although attempts are made to trace the history of Ceylon before the arrival of Vijaya (about 500 BC), who is credited as the founder of the present Sinhalese race, there is sufficient historical and archaeological evidence to prove the existence of a high level of civilization before him. The proto history of Ceylon could be traced back to atleast 5000 years to the period of Raman of the epic Ramayanam. Raman (the same Raman about whose temple there is violent dispute between the Hindus and Muslims in Uttar Pradesh India at present) who was an Aryan king from north India fought against the Tamil Yaksha king of Ilankai (Ceylon) Ravanan who had abducted Rama's wife Seethai. Jawaharlal Nehru in his book Glimpses of World History describes the war between Raman and Ravanan as a war between the Aryans and Dravidians.
Therefore, the oft-repeated question as to who came first, the Tamils or the Sinhalese, is a controversial subject emotively debated by both the parties, but the following observation by the eminent Sinhala historian and Cambridge scholar, Paul Peiris represent an influential and common sese point of view:
" ... it stands to reason that a country which was only thirty miles from India and which would have been seen by Indian fisherman every morning as they sailed out to catch their fish, would have been occupied as soon as the continent was peopled by men who understood how to sail ..... Long before the arrival of Prince Vijaya, there were in Sri Lanka five recognised isvarams of Siva which claimed and received adoration of all India. These were Tiruketeeswaram near Mahatitha; Munneeswaram dominating Salawatta and the pearl fishery; Tondeswaram near Mantota; Tirkoneswaram near the great bay of Kottiyar and Nakuleswaram near Kankesanthurai. Their situation close to these ports cannot be the result of accident or caprice and was probably determined by the concourse of a wealthy mercantile population whose religious wants called for attention ...." (Paul E. Pieris: Nagadipa and Buddhist Remains in Jaffna: Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch Vol.28)
EARLY POLITICAL HISTORY
The early political history of the people of South India and Sri Lanka, before the advent of the European powers, is largely a chronicle of the rise and fall of individdual kingdoms. South India was ruled mostly by the three great Kings Cholas, Seras an Pandiyas. Sometimes they faught against the invaders and some times they warred against each other. In addition to these three great kings there were also petty kings who ruled over large tracts of land, nominally independant, but paying tribute to one or more of the three Kings. Among the three kings the Cholas were easily the most powereful and the only naval power in India. The army of Raja Raja the Great (984-1014) invaded Ceylon, made Rajarata a part of the Chola empire, and founded Polonnaruwa as the capital city.
Rarajah's sone Rajendra (1014 - 1044) further extended the Chola empire, so that in the 11th century the mighty Cholas ruledd over Ceylon, Kampuchea, Malaya and greater part of Indonesia.
The society was fuedal in structure and alnd was the most dominat means of production. The Sangam literature provides evidence of the lucrative two-way trade these kingdoms had with far away Roman and Greek empires.
INDEPENANCE IN 1948
Sri Lanka attained its independence from British colonial rule in February 04,1948. The first parliamentary elections were held in 1947 under the Soulbury constitution. The total members of parliament was 96 with an additional 6 appointed members representing minority communities. Mr.D.S.Senanayake, the leader of the United National Party (formerly Ceylon National Congress), formed the government. He became the first Prime Minister of an independent Ceylon.
Ceylon had been ruled by both Tamil and Sinhalese kings, the Tamil Kingdom comprising the north and eastern parts and the Sinhalese Kingdom(s) the western & southern parts of Ceylon. There were brief periods when the whole of Ceylon came under a single ruler. Otherwise, there existed two or more Kingdoms and the Tamil Kingdom always one of them. The Tamil Kingdom, later came to be called the Jaffna Kingdom existed as a separate polity for centuries. The first war between a Tamil King who ruled Anuradhapura and a Sinhalese king from the south was fought in the 2nd century BC.
In 1505 when the Portuguese landed in Ceylon there was not one but three Kingdoms, the Jaffna Kingdom in the north & east, the Kotte Kingdom in the west and Kandyan Kingdom in the centre. The Jaffna Kingdom was captured by the Portuguese when the king of Jaffna was defeated in June,1619. He was captured and taken by the Portuguese to Goa where he was hanged. The Portuguese ruled Jaffna Kingdom from 1619 to 1658. The Dutch who captured the Kingdom from the Portuguese ruled till 1795 and the British till February 03,1948.
The Jaffna Kingdom was ruled as a separate polity both by the Portuguesepresentation. This demand came to be known as 50-50 envisaged allocating 50% of the parliamentary seats to the Sinhalese and the balance 50% to the Tamils, Muslims, Burgers and other minority groups. This was rejected by the Soulbury Commission, but they did incorporate Section 29 (2) (b) and (c) which curtailed the legislative power of Parliament to "make laws for the peace, order and good government of the island". This Section provided that no such law shall impose any disabilities, or confer any advantages, on members of any one community only.
TAMILS LOSE CITIZENSHIP AND FRANCHISE
Before the ink could dry on the new constitution the Ceylon parliament passed the Ceylon Citizenship Act No.18 of 1948 which deprived a million Tamils of Indian origin their citizenship.
This was followed up with the Ceylon (Parliamentary Elections) Amendment Act No.48 of 1949 which deprived the Tamils of their franchise as well. This category of Tamils who had 7 seats in the Parliament and held balance of power in a further 20-30 electorates failed to elect even a single member in the elections to the parliament held in 1953.
THE RISE OF SINHALA-BUDDHIST NATIONALISM
The deprivation of citizenship of a million Tamils was the result of actions of a Sinhala -Buddhist majority which regarded the island as the exclusive home of Sinhala Buddism and the Tamils as invaders from Tamil Nadu in South India.
" The history of Sri Lanka is the history of the Sinhalese race ... The Sinhalese people were entrusted 2500 years ago, with a great and nobel charge, the preservation .... of Buddhism .. in 1956 will occur the unique three fold event - the completion of 2500 years of Ceylon's history, of the tie of the Sinhalese and Buddhism ... The birth of the Sinhalese race would thus seem to gave been not a mere chance, not an accidental occurrence, but a predetermined event of high import and purpose. The nation semed designed, as it were, from its rise, primarily to carry aloft for fifty centuries the torch that was lit by the grear World-Mentor (the Buddha) twenty five centuries ago.. " (The revolt in the Temple, by D.C VIjayawardena, 1953).
This is just one example of what has become the battle cry of the Sinhala-Buddhists sole and exclusive claim to the whole of Ceylon. Before him the great Buddhist revivalist Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1931), whose earlier name was Don David Hewavitarne took the name of Anagarika (in Pali meaning "the homeless one") and Dharmapala ( meaning "the guardian of the doctrine") in his book History of an Ancient Civilization (1902) wrote:
Ethnologically, the Sinhalese are a unique race, inasmuch as they can boast that they have no slave blood in them, and were never conququered by either the paga Tamils or European vanadals who for three centuries devastated the land, destroyed ancient temples, burnt valuable libraries, and nearly annihilated the historic race .... This bright, bueautiful island was made into a paradise by the Aryan Sinhalese before its destruction was brought about by the barbaric vandals .... For the students of ethnology the Sinhalese stand as the representatives of Aryan civilization ...
This potent mixture of legend and superstition, passe off as historical fact, was nurtured, refined and exploited by successive Sinhalese political leaders who sought to perpetuate their rule over the Tamils.
THE SINHALA ONLY ACT OF 1956
As predicted with remarkable foresight by S.J.V.Celvanayagm in Parliament during the debate on Citizenship Bill ( 1948) the next blow was dealt to the Tamils when the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Government of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake enacted Sinhala Only as the Official Language in June 1956. The enactment of this Act, quite contrary to the hitherto official policy of recognising both Sinhalese and Tamil as Official languages, made Tamils second class citizens in their country of birth overnight.
It was undoubtedly a betrayal of the two language policy of considering both Tamil and Sinhalese as official languages. Politically it was a master stroke by the majority Sinhalese to deprive jobs in the government and state corporations. The Tamils were humiliated to a degree that left generations of Tamils to feel socially as outcasts and politically second class citizens.
Phillip Gunawardene, a Minister in Bandareanayake's government and a vocivorous champion of Sinhal Only told Parliament:
"We are completeting by this (Sinhala Only) Bill an important phase in our national struggle. The restoration of the Sinhala language to the position it occupied before the occupation of this country by foreign powers, marks an important stage in the history of the development of this island" (Hansard, 14th June 1956)
The peaceful Satyragraha by the Tamils to protest against the Sinhala Only language policy at Galle Face Green overlooking the Parliament in Colombo was broken up by Sinhalese hoodlums. This was followed by Island wide riots in which hundreds of Tamils lost their lives and property worth millions destroyed. The 1956 riots was the beginning of a series of racially motivated Tamil pogroms by Sinhalese covertly encouraged by successive governments and overtly supported by the security forces. These pogroms with increased ferocity and venom were repeated in 1958, 1961, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983.
In July 1957 Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake signed a pact with Mr.S.J.V.Chelvanayagam, popularly called the Bandaranayake- Chelvanayagam pact, of the Tamil Federal Party giving a measure of regional autonomy in spheres of land, language, education, etc. But the pact was torn apart by Mr.Bandaranayake under pressure from Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinists. Foremost among them was no other than Mr.J.R.Jayawardena of the United National Party who undertook a march to Kandy in protest. A similar Pact signed by Mr.Chelvanayagam with Mr.Dudley Senanayake in 1965 too met the same fate.
A non-violent Satyragraha campaign launched by the Tamil Federal party in the northern eastern provinces which paralysed civil administration was ruthlessly broken-up using the army. This army is dominated by the Sinhalese (99%) and continued to be used as an instrument of state terrorism to this very day. The entire security forces now number over 100,000 and heavily armed with modern military hardware, fighter bombers, helicopter gun- ships,tanks, armoured vehicles, naval patrol boats etc. The government of Sri Lanka is currently spending upto 20% of the state budget to maintain it.
In 1970 the government of Mrs.Srimawo Bandaranayake (widow of Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake) rubbed salt into wounds by introducing the notorious "Standardisation" of education. This discriminate policy required higher marks from Tamil students for University admissions visas adopted which removed even the meagre safeguards [(Section 29 (2) (b) & (c)] contained in the Soulbury constitution. This infamous constitution, ironically authored by a Troskite (4th International) Minister in Mrs.Bandaranyake cabinet created the conditions for the political alienation of the Tamils and a deep wedge between the two nations. The constitution incorporated the Sinhala Only Act as part of the constitution and enthroned Buddhism as the foremost religion to be fostered by the state. Amendments moved by the Tamil Federal Party to the draft constitution demanding a federal constitution and parity of status for Tamil along with Sinhalese were defeated by the government. In protest the Federal Party withdrew from further deliberations of the Constituent Assembly and boycotted same. As a mark of protest Mr.Chelvanayagam resigned his seat in Parliament and challenged the government to hold an election to test the acceptability of the new constitution. He simultaneously sought a mandate from the Tamil people mandate for the restoration of the defunct Tamil state. No elections were held till January, 1975 and Mr.Chelvanayagam won the by-election against a government supported candidate with a huge margin of 16,000 votes.
In 1975 confronted with the steadily mounting national oppression, frustrated with the failure of the democratic political struggles, the Tamil national parties converged into a single movement (The Tamging the constitution into operation either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle"
In the elections that followed the TULF received an overwhelming mandate having won 18 seats out of 24 contested. By fortuitous circumstances the TULF also emerged as the official opposition in Parliament. Unfortunately this was also the undoing
of the TULF since Mr.Amirthalingam, the leader of the TULF, came to be more delighted in his new role as the Leader of the Opposition than leader of a movement committed to win liberation through peaceful means, direct action or struggle. Mr.Amirthalingam started talking about an alterative to the Eelam demand and eventually settled down for District Development Councils. This experiment failed in the face of a chauvinistic and intransigent cabinet. In any case the Tamils felt that the DDC was a sop and the Tamil leadership have been taken yet again for a ride by crafty Sinhalese politicians, specially Mr.J.R.Jayawardena, Prime Minister and later President of Sri Lanka.
In 1978 yet another Constitution was enacted which tightened the enslavement of the Tamils further. The TULF like in 1972 walked out of the constitution assembly and took no part in its deliberations.
In 1979 the Sri Lankan government enacted the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act to cope with the growing militancy, notably of the Liberation Tigers. This act and the subsequent crack down by the army of Tamil youths made the situation worse and confirmed the fears of the Tamils that the Sinhalese government was hell bent to exterminate them. The racial riots of 1977 and 1979 poured oil on already burning fire.
From 1979, because of the Sinhalese army occupation of Jaffna and the state terrorism let loose on the people, hostility began to grow and the emotional division between the Sinhalese and the Tamils became more acute. A group of highly organised young Tamil militants, first calling themselves the New Tamil Tigers and later The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 1976 emerged to confront the government terrorism by bearing arms.
In July, 1983 the Tamil Tigers ambushed a convey of Sinhalese army in the north and killed 13 Sinhalese soldiers. This ignited another Tamil Pogrom surpassing all the previous ones in its intensity and destruction of life and property. A panicked government of Mr.Jayawardena at the growing militancy of the Tamils and the cry for separation sought to defuse the situation by the 6th amendment to the Constitution by compelling all office holders, including Members of Parliament, to take an oath of allegiance to the unitary constitution. Unable to comply with this forced allegiance the TULF boycotted the parliament and later lost their seats. With the forced political exile and eventual marginalization of the moderate leadership of the Tamils by the constitutional amendment, the Tamil militant groups, notably the Tigers gained ascendancy. Today LTTE is the undisputed and authentic leaders of the Tamil people in the vanguard of the national liberation war.
The many battles and the recent fighting at Elephant Pass which assumed all the hallmarks of a conventional war between the Tamil Tigers and Sinhalese army had established the fact that there are not only two separate nations but two separate armies as well.